93 Tasting Notes


Such a yummy, easy-going tea. Incredibly forgiving to brew, this is terrific at low concentration for short steeps on up to high concentration with absurdly long ones. I just sat down and sipped this from a gaiwan while watching a movie, leaving this to brew for well beyond 15 minutes. Used 4g with an initial water volume of 125ml at 90 degrees Celsius and a quick rinse.

Dry fragrance is dried apricot and resinous hardwood in the bag, but when tossed in a prewarmed vessel, a heady fragrance of dried dates, figs, and kiwi skin mixed with the sort of lightly charred smokiness of a iron skillet. Wetted leaves release some musty, mossy aromas. Liquor aroma is sort of in-between a Keemun and Dian Hong. Tacky, somewhat sweet, woody. A touch of burning, wet thyme and rosemary and grilled pineapple.

Savory impression. At low concentrations or shortly after adding water when drinking from the brewing tea, it comes off as crisp, sweet, and light in most aspects. Cocoa-dusted toffee almonds with a lingering light basil note in the aftertaste. At higher concentrations, more resin is evident with notes of dates, dried apricot, sunflower seeds, black pepper, cinnamon, prune, cooked onions, poppyseed, clay, and barley atop a rich body. Aside from the light crispness and a somewhat tannin-like characteristic, this is very smooth. Hearty and belly-filling.

Easy to drink alongside food and can handle having junk mixed into it like milk and sweetener. Heck, it can even handle a bit of citrus (heaven forbid someone would purposefully add such a thing to good tea outside of experimentation) and hold a decent amount of flavor when brewed long and strong. I usually want to add this to any breakfast-style tea I try to blend for, but the lack of astringency and general mellow quality inevitably leaves this tea sapping the aggressive elements out of the teas it’s blended with.

195 °F / 90 °C 8 min or more

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MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCH better. Bumping up 20 points.

6g per 100ml, 97C water, quick initial rinse, and infusions progressing 15, 15, 25, 35, 45, 60 seconds.

Nice crispness with apple and acacia wood notes and a gentle floral recession. Some light hints of natural cocoa powder, walnut shell, terra cotta, orchid bark, orange peel, and allspice. Body is much better, though still lighter than a Yunnan red.

At a high concentration and short steeps, this is a very nice tea well worth the price. Good thing I gave it a 12th chance to give me good results…

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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One of the most beautiful teas I’ve seen in terms of dry leaf appearance (wet leaf and liquor color are pretty too, but not as breathtaking). Looks like small, fat buds of spun gold.

Maybe the gorgeous appearance, meticulous grading, and my general faith in the retailer’s selections had a good amount to do with this, but boy this was disappointing.

Lacking in character.
Flavors that were present had a wet cardboard taste threaded through them.
Tastes and aromas are muddled together and difficult to differentiate.
Kinda flat.

Best cup I’ve been able to produce so far (4g, 120ml, 2min, 95C) leans heavily on the dry-cured bamboo flavor and has sort of a dried papaya note hiding in the nose behind the smell of an old leaf pile. Nice body, but it just kinda sits there. In a cupping lineup I found myself avoiding this tea, half-emptying the bowls of the other samples and barely putting a dent in this one.
Gonna try screwing with concentration on this one tomorrow. Maybe if I overdose or go much lighter it will turn out better. Mid range of 2g-4g per 115ml-150ml from 85 degrees to boiling isn’t doing it for me, though.

200 °F / 93 °C 2 min, 0 sec

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drank Golden Monkey by Malden Tea
93 tasting notes

Much better than I expected considering I bought this through Amazon.com and it was pretty cheap.

Apricot notes in the dry fragrance and in the nose while drinking. Roasted cacao nib woodiness, but not particularly chocolaty. Full or “higher end of medium” body balanced nicely with a light astringency.
Durable enough for four pretty long infusions using 4g per 125ml boiling water: 3min, 4min, 4min, 5 min.

Not terribly enticing nor particularly complex, but very approachable and would make a good, somewhat mellower substitution for breakfast tea fans. Wouldn’t go way out of my way to buy this, but better than the price it’s going for.

Still looking to beef up the Golden Monkey lineup for the showdown… Any suggestions for a Fujian Golden Monkey that’s likely to give Red Blossom a run for its money?

Boiling 3 min, 0 sec

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Preparing this two different ways side by side in glazed gaiwans each with 115ml water.
4g using 3min-98C, 4min-90C, 4min-95C, 5min-100C decanted into a serving pitcher
3g using a continuous infusion more than 15min and starting at 90C, drinking from the gaiwan.
I groomed the leaf a bit for the continuous brew – the leaf bits were of a more uniform size versus the decanted infusions including some little broken pieces just a tad larger than fannings.
Really, though, if I had one served to me, I would not be able to tell which was which, as long as the infusion time went to four minutes or beyond. Seeeerious consistency. The continuous infusion picked up an “afterthought” astringency towards the bottom, but it’s pleasant and tannin-like, bringing in an oak leaf/acorn character I enjoy.

Above anything else, this leaves a silky impression. I don’t want to say “smooth” though that’s what jumps to mind, since there is a definitive crispness about it and a light astringency that trickles in from the throat up to the tip of the tongue a while after swallowing. Swishing it around in my mouth and letting it sit there is simply smooth and soothing, though a bit mouthwatering with a wood-like acidity… no astringency until it leaves the mouth. And it’s a fun astringency, at that – it’s prickly and stimulating. Ever walk along a creek in the redwoods on a cold summer evening and taken a deep breath? To those who haven’t, I’m sorry, come spend more time along Northern California’s coast. To those who have and can dredge the memory of the taste and smell up to the front of your consciousness, you have a good idea of what this tea tastes like.
Crisp, minerally, tannic, wet softwoods, mellow resin, moss, Douglas Iris, sorrel in bloom, ferns and horsetails, a mellow but steadfast background of white oak fires piping low smoke from distant wood stove chimneys, a touch of leaf litter dust dampened by fog drip, and fleeting notes of kelp washed up on coarse sand beaches in cold ocean water. I suppose this is wholly lacking in the must and mold smells that would accompany all this if you go farther north than Mendocino… but from Santa Cruz to Fort Bragg, it’s pretty darn close. I love it when teas are potently reminiscent of where I live.

This isn’t a particularly smoky Keemun, but the dry fragrance coming from the very pretty leaves is a low, slightly charred barbecue chicken fragrance. The wet leaf aroma takes on a light apple cobbler character (again, slightly charred edges). Liquor is bright red-orange in a shallow white cup and orange-brown in a deep, narrow cup and carries a copper and softwood aroma. In the continuous brew, this took on a tinge of sage brush while the decanted infusion held a more baked apple skin characteristic.

Silky, refreshing, warming but with a bit of a finishing tingle like you’ve been warmed from the cold. Love the play between the crisp and toasty dichotomy. Yummy when hot, but be sure to let a little bit of it go cold for a delicious twist that makes some sweet and spice notes jump forward (hard caramel, black pepper, and so much malt). There’s a good amount of greenery in the flavors and aromas, but the overall tacky nature announces this as a red tea with blaring horns. No bitterness. I want to say chocolate because of the texture, but it really isn’t there, mostly due to that lack of bitterness and only faint sweet aftertaste … more sandstone and sediment than anything else. The tackiness and spice notes remind me of sarsaparilla is some aspects. Third infusion in the decanted brews brings out a slight tangerine note and slicker mouthfeel – lighter body but still satisfying.

This tea can take a beating and shrugs it off like a rhino, but I feel like it would be sort of blasphemous to put anything in it. Just brew it lighter or heavier.
Down side… This tea makes me thirsty.

200 °F / 93 °C 3 min, 0 sec

Your description of the redwood forest really makes me want to drink this tea. Such beautiful writing!


baked apple as a color ?

Thomas Smith

No, the smell of the wet leaf is similar to apple cobbler that has burned just a tad on the edges.

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I’ve been screwing around with this tea a lot lately, trying to bend it to my will. It has beautiful leaves, great liquor clarity, exhibits a good range of flavors, has a decent balance of body and liveliness, and produces a very distinct flavor set some people may adore… I’m just not a huge fan of some of the characteristics it possesses. I can’t justify rating it as a simply “okay” tea or as though it is “lesser-than” some of the teas I love, though, because of the steadfast, clear flavors and aromatics it produces.

What I dislike is a fairly heady, almost-overripe dried fruit aroma/nose that is reminiscent of what I get from certain Sonoma Valley Chardonnays. Also, there is a flavor that reminds me of the smell of old glue that has failed over the years to hold the spine of an old book – to me it tastes a bit like the air of my local public library. Tweak these characteristics a bit more to the grapey side, and you’d wind up with a nice, somewhat woody Darjeeling-like character. Tweak ‘em a bit to the malt side and you’d have a fruited and elegant Assam characteristic. Where it stands, I’m not particularly fond of it… I’m sure there are folks who’d fall head over heels about it, though. A rinse lowers these tones a bit out of the almost-cloying range into base characteristics of the nose.

Aside from these bits, it’s a very pleasant, approachable light Chinese red. Medium body feels like it ought to be a bit heavier to accommodate the flavors that are expressed, but this is a trait I’m used to in Fujian reds as a whole. Liquor color is a stunning deep red orange like the color of recently made bricks. Plucking standard is pretty darn uniform and comprised exclusively of young, intact leaves and buds (plus a small twig here and there). Torn leaves are still young and the sizing conforms to the length of the rest of the material.

Unlike the dried apricot fruit notes of many other Golden Monkey reds (and inherent in the dry fragrance of four others I tasted along side this in a cupping earlier) this one exhibits more of a white nectarine skin fragrance alongside the wood and cocoa. Wet aroma brings out the aforementioned chardonnay note with more of a wet cocoa powder characteristic. The overarching characteristic of the liquor aroma is malt.

Cocoa jumps forward in the flavor, though it isn’t an exceptionally chocolatey tea. Interestingly, I get a good amount of rose and rosebush foliage notes in the flavor and aftertaste/afteraroma. Very ripe white peach hangs around as a dull perfume both in the cup and transferred from the mouth up into the sinuses for a double-dose (fortunately, it isn’t intense or pervasive). Drinking from a gaiwan using a rinse and 4g per 115ml in 90 degrees C water, mostly malty and woody flavors run through the bulk of the flavor. In cupping with 2.5g per 125ml water just off a boil (5 min steep) I get more cinnamon raisin bread as a base and a primary high note of ripe stonefruit peel (again, white peach/nectarine or maybe even pluot skin). Leaves a crisp impression and very faint sweetness to the breath hanging deep in the throat like that of chewing a bit of dry oak wood (little less grassy than a typical toothpick or stir stick). Nose is mostly floral with those light cocoa notes but there is a base of wet clay and malt serving as a backbone and rounding it out.

Overall, very approachable and smooth. Not a ton setting it apart as a red tea, but a distinct step in flavor clarity above many of this group of teas. When cupped alongside four Golden Monkeys sold by Plymouth Tea Company, this one stands up with the best tactile balance and has the easiest identifiable character to it. Not sure whether it’s the case or not, but it tastes “fresher” despite being the same harvest or older. I suspect the fairly strict plucking standard of very young first flush leaves and relative lacking of broken material is largely responsible for this effect.

Personally, I like the Golden Monkey I bought from Silk Road a few years ago much better, and probably wouldn’t buy this for my personal satisfaction; however, I highly recommend fans of easy-drinking red teas to give this one a try and have no qualms giving this as a gift.

Will be pitting this against Red Blossom’s two Golden Monkeys soon…

195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 0 sec

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Wow, I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I’ve been on here. Took a tea like this to get me typing up online again, hahaha.

Considering some of the sampes of tea I’ve gotten from this company, I was not really expecting this tea to be quite worth the cost they are charging for it ($22.40 per 28g plus just shy of $5 shipping) but I had to give it a try as I’ve been searching for this tea for quite some time. I had a pure bud Ceylon once before, about six years ago, and have only seen a couple here and there since. Dunno if it is a matter of actual rarity of production or more a matter of rarity of companies shelling out the cash to procure and offer it with potentially dismaying results, but it is hard to find retailers that’ll sell it.
I’m really happy I got it!

I bought this looking at it as a blend component but after screwing around with it I feel it’s a shame to not simply enjoy it on its own even if it can work very well alongside other (similarly priced and quality-ranked) red teas. It is very tasty and provides a rich impression in terms of tactile balance, flavor, and aroma. Very satisfying.

The image doesn’t really do it justice… These are pure buds with occasional additional leaf scales (no fully developed leaves anywhere) processed in such a way that a tremendous amount of golden down is preserved. Looks a whole lot like the Imperial Yunnan Gold at Imperial Tea Court but with a bit narrower shape and slight curl to each bud. Most pure bud teas are not this small – four to five laid down end-to-end make up the length of a typical good grade Fuding Da Bai Hao Yin Zhen bud. Think Keemun leaf size.

Made my typical mistake of trying to take in the dry fragrance of the leaf directly and almost sneezed from sniffing up the hairs from the leaves. Fragrance when placed in a warm cup is cocoa, caramel, apple pie crust, hardwood, and fresh bread out of the oven. Wet aroma is chocolatey with maltiness similar to scotch (minus any acohol tang) and barley. Liquor is deep amber to brown, very much (again) like Yunnan buds. Liquor aroma is malty and sweet.

First impression is actually in the nose, conveying wheat toast and malt notes with a bit of a vegetal spike similar to corn on a barbecue grill (not far from the smell of roasting coffee pre-first crack). Comforting. There’s great, front-heavy mouthfeel that somehow is a little less weighted in the back of the mouth. Flavor has hearty characteristics similar to baked apples, sweet potato, fresh toasted croissants, and a little bit of honey, cumin, coriander, and saigon cinnamon over a smooth woody base. Spice notes turn more towards true cinnamon in the aftertaste, which is pretty darned reminiscent of the aftertaste of homemade baklava. Overall very buttery and full bodied with a mouthwatering effect and lingering sweetness.

Works really well in brewing with a gaiwan, but I actually enjoyed drinking this most in a cupping setup using western brewing ratios and a long steep in almost boiling water. Using 2.8g per 160ml water and 4min, 4min30sec, 5min each infusion with fresh water just before a full boil I got three very nice, relatively consistent infusions with a steady petering of flavor. Most sweetness in the third infusion. Fourth infusion at 5min not quite worth the trouble, but I still enjoy three long brews a tad more than ten short ones at higher concentration.

This is a great alternative to Yunnan Gold Buds, carrying more body and slightly more sweetness and a more refreshing yet toasty progression through to the aftertaste. Certainly right in league with the Yunnan, Sichuan, and Fujian golden bud teas, just with a slightly different face and perhaps a little more comforting on a cold day and works as accompaniment to slightly heartier foods like stew or oatmeal while being refreshing enough to be a draw on a hot day. Lucky me, my weather just swung from 87 degrees to 31 degrees in just over a week so I got to see how this guy applies to different weather, hahaha.

Were it not for the price, this would supplant Golden Monkey for me for a rich, smooth, sweet go-to red tea.

205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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Hapily bumping the rating on this tea!

This time ’round I went for 9g in 190ml using the same seasoned shi piao style zi ni pot. Single rinse had 10 second total contact time (the general rate of pour for this pot) with water right off a boil. Only paid attention to four infusions before delving into just drinking alongside my dinner and winging temps and times after that. Tack 10 seconds onto these for total contact times: 25sec-99C, 30sec-98C, 35sec-96C, 40sec-94C, subsequent infusions a patchwork up to a couple minutes with 90C-100C water…

Fragrance is basic slightly earthen leaf litter and bark with a slight olive oil underlying note. Aroma heady wet humus and wet mossy rocks (not really earthy or musty, but there are parallels) and some dry bamboo. A good amount of bran comes out in the aroma on both the leaves and liquor. Liquor starts reddish and gets progressively darker brown until the untimed seventh infusion.

Much more crisp and coppery than last time brewing. Great body, lingering rice sweetness, and woody notes similar, but more of that sweetness and much more of a savory impression. Bamboo shoot or marsh grass vegetal notes peep through in the aftertaste. Crisp and refreshing despite thick mouthfeel and generally very warming bodily effect.

Later infusions I had with meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Very odd pairing, but by golly did they go well together! Heavy food and hearty tea with cool crisp air coming in from outside makes for a very nice experience.

Hooray for second chances.

205 °F / 96 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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Had a nice but less-than-wonderful round of brewings with this tea the other day. I’m going to redo this tea with a bit higher concentration.
Used 7g in 200ml water in a shi piao style zi ni clay pot that’s been pretty well seasoned with shu puerh.

Big body, mildly sweet, tacky. Nice, full presence and steadfast rich wood and leaf litter character, but there really isn’t a ton to distinguish this cake from other good Menghai shu bingchas. I know shu cha doesn’t gain much of anything beyond a few years to a decade, but it’s sad to consider it just mellowing out to a pleasant tea that’s nice to have with meals. Tasty, but it isn’t something I’d necessarily serve to guests, as there isn’t very dynamic an expression of flavors.

I know I can get more out of this, as I’ve been brewing it since February 2009. If something else doesn’t catch my eye/tastebuds late tonight, I’ll be revisiting this.

200 °F / 93 °C 0 min, 15 sec

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Just a stone’s throw away from getting this blend right for this winter and I managed to toss together a composition that is too good…
I don’t want to screw around with it any more to make it smokier and astringent – it’s got great balance of flavor, aroma, and body. But it really isn’t what I would call a breakfast blend without the astringency needed to cut through milk.

Felt I ought to post this anyway since the four teas I’m drinking right now in this blend are all very tasty, all from the same company, and really nice in a 1:2:2:3 ratio.
From Tillerman Tea -
House Keemun
Yunnan Black Gold Reserve
Yixing Gongfu Black
Lapsang Souchong
Brewed with 4g in 111ml water shortly off a boil for 3 minutes this makes for a rich, smooth, silky mouthfeel and produces a flavor reminiscent of ripe stone fruits, lychee, malt, bran, and some spun sugar riding atop a bunch of bittersweet chocolate pave. Sumptuous and sweet. Sort of a crisp pasta- or rice-like sweet aftertaste.
Oddly, despite all the dry fragrances of these teas being lightly toasty, fruited, and exhibiting degrees of cocoa, the fragrance of the blend is unmistakable bacon. Can’t blame the Lapsang, either – the Tillerman Tea Lapsang is a very lightly smoked one and is much more on the fruit side. Fortunately, the aroma doesn’t convey this, though it is still savory.

Sadly, I think I’m going to have to substitute an Assam for the lovely Yixing Hong Cha… Such a delicious tea (and a little heart-wrenching blending it) but I need a slap-in-the-face tea base, not a hearty bear hug. Probably gonna go with a more assertive Keemun as well… A Tai Ji style perhaps? I enjoy working with this Lapsang too much to abandon it for a smokier one, but I’ll have to supplement it with another smoky element.

A shame jumping away from nice results, but that’s why I’m logging them here.
Better post a review for the Yixing Hong Cha soon.

If I stopped blending here, I’d have to bump my rating up by about 10 points. The Yixing and Lapsang reds are in the high 70’s on their own (if not higher) using my highly subjective scale.

205 °F / 96 °C 3 min, 0 sec

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Tea Geek.

My focus is on Chinese Wulongs and Pu’er but I’m all over the place. I tend to follow a seasonal progression of teas, following the freshness curve of greens through summer and rounding the cooler months out with toastier teas and Masala Chai.
With the exception of Masala Chai milk tea I’m a purist at heart. While I was originally snagged by Earl Grey with bergamot and make blends for gifts, I very rarely go for scented teas or herbals and can’t remember the last time I bought a tea that was blended. Pure tea is just more interesting to me than the product of mixing flavors. I do understand and appreciate their existence, though.

I upload some blends I make or special prep teas I nab under the company name “Green Raven Tea and Coffee” and the vast majority of these posts will be blends crafted to create flavors/characteristics not inherent in any one particular tea.
I’ve worked as a tea buyer for a smallish cafe and try to keep apprized of shifts in offerings even when not selecting for a business so I wind up sampling a ton of wholesale samples from a couple companies in particular but try to branch out to as many companies as I can find. Until Steepster integrates some form of comparative tasting feature, none of my cupping notes will make it onto my reviews unless wrapped up into something I feel compelled to drink multiple times on its own.

Since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s my big fat ratings scheme:

0-12…..Ugh, don’t wish on anyone
13-25….Bad, won’t touch again
26-37….Huh, not worth the effort
38-50….Meh, unremarkable
51-62….Okay, good tea
63-75….Tasty, really good tea
76-87….Yum, wonderful
88-100…Wow, really spectacular

There shouldn’t be many postings at all from me ranked 26-50 since unremarkable teas are unlikely to make me remark on ’em but to “earn” a score 37 or below I have to be disappointed to the point where others may ask for a refund or turn down offers even when free or offered as a gift (beyond stale).

I’ve got a ton of respect for anything rated 63 or higher.

For a tea to get 71 or more, it has to be pretty special and kinda blow my socks off.

The 90s are reserved for wonders that make me reevaluate my views of the world of tea as a whole.


Santa Rosa, California, United States

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